It was the kind of buy that Mark White was looking for--a big second-hand desk at a bargain price. Because its drawers were locked shut, the man at the Monrovia office supply store was offering it for just $39.95. White, an advertising executive, trucked the desk to his San Dimas office and pried open the top drawer with a screwdriver.
"One little click and the whole thing popped open," he said, showing a drawer full of pencils and paper clips. "I said, 'Hey, I scored!' "
There was also a drawer full of documents. As White leafed through the papers, he noticed that at least one was marked "classified." Others appeared to contain data about a planned Army attack helicopter, including hand-written calculations relating to radar systems. Most of the documents carried the name of the Hughes Aircraft Co.
"I started reading the stuff and said, 'Hey, there's some pretty hairy stuff here,' " White said Sunday, with the documents spread across his newly acquired desk.
But How Important?
However, the importance of White's discovery was unclear.
A spokesman for Hughes Aircraft said that the company was awaiting word from the FBI as to whether the documents contained secret information. The FBI thought enough of the documents to dispatch an agent from West Covina to retrieve them. "But from the description of (the documents), it's inconsistent with our classification system," said Hughes spokesman Ray Silvius. He said that sensitive material would ordinarily be stamped, top and bottom, with the words "secret," "top secret" or "confidential." He said that personnel in possession of secret or top-secret documents would have to account for them before leaving the company's employment.
Silvius said that Hughes Aircraft was not involved in the development of the LHX helicopter. "But we may have been involved with some of its systems," he said.
An Army duty officer at the Pentagon in Washington referred questions about the documents to the Army's Los Angeles public affairs branch office, which could not be reached for comment.
White showed a reporter papers showing detailed specifications for the Army LHX helicopter being developed by Hughes Helicopter and other aerospace companies, including its maximum take-off weight, top speed, weaponry and "reduced radar signature," or its ability to evade detection by an enemy. The helicopter is scheduled to be in operation in 1992, the documents indicated.
One document showed comparative data for the Cobra and Apache helicopters, used by American armed forces.
The cache of papers also included a Hughes technical library services directory, which was marked "classified."
The calculations relating to radar systems were apparently written by S. A. Hovanessian, a respected aerospace engineer who was employed by Hughes Aircraft for 23 years. His name appears on the papers with the calculations.
Called at his Los Angeles home, Hovanessian said he had left Hughes last October. "Somebody else might have used the desk," he said. "When I left there in 1986, everything was cleaned out of my desk."
Hovanessian, who works for Aerospace Corp., said he could not comment on what projects he worked on for Hughes.
"At that time, I was working on many projects," he said. His calculations appeared to refer to "electronic countermeasures" for the helicopter. Hovanessian is listed in "Who's Who In America" as, among other things, the inventor of the radar computer, a circular slide rule for radar computations.
White, 35, said that when he was in the Navy in the early 1970s, he was a technician with clearance for secret documents. "I felt that a lot of men and women died for this country to protect this kind of information," he said.
He said a sense of "outrage" prompted him to contact the press. "This kind of stuff shouldn't be going out the back door," he said. "All the Russians would have to do would be to spend $39.95 for a used desk to get information that could be detrimental to our country."
The current Jane's directory of aircrafts says Hughes Helicopter has been awarded two research and development contracts to develop a production program and a retractable landing gear for the LHX, an extraordinarily maneuverable aircraft that represents the next generation of helicopters.
The Army plans to buy 5,000 of the helicopters, which are being developed jointly by Bell Helicopter Textron and McDonnell Douglas Helicopter, which bought Hughes Helicopter.